Preview: Olympic Games Men’s Time Trial

Bradley Wiggins celebrates his gold at London 2012. Pic courtesy of The Telegraph.

The men’s individual time trial this year comprises two laps of what is being called the ‘Grumari circuit’ — the first loop that the riders will have taken on in the Olympic road race, and the one which features the Grumari and Grota Funda climbs. That makes it 54.6km in total, with four categorized climbs (there’s a time check at the crest of each climb). This makes it remarkable both for distance and for difficulty of terrain, meaning it will be a powerful rider who wins here, but not necessarily an out-and-out time trial specialist, even if there are a good deal of flat kilometres. Let’s look at the contenders.

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We’re not going to beat about the proverbial bush here, there are two standout favourites for this event: The Netherlands’ Tom Dumoulin and Britain’s Chris Froome. It is uncontroversial to say that Dumoulin would be hands down favourite if he hadn’t come down on his hands on stage 19 of the Tour de France. He was forced to abandon a tour from which he’d taken two stages — one a mountaintop finish, the other a rolling individual time trial — and x-rays quickly revealed a broken radius bone (it’s yer forearm). He’s since been out on the bike, and has even snapped a few smiling selfies and filmed his apparently recovered arm whilst riding. He’ll be present in Rio, but our first glimpse of his true condition will come when he’s pacing Bauke Mollema in Saturday’s road race.

Thus, the uncertainty over the state of Dumoulin’s bones means he drops from absolute, in-from, ride-of-his-life favourite down to merely very strong favourite. It’s going to be a famous battle of “Dum versus Froome” in Rio. Froome really is flying at the moment, and is perhaps the only rider in the professional peloton with a decent chance at doubling up on the road race and time trial golds (though others might get two medals — see below). He was dominant in the more properly “uphill” time trial in the Tour de France, even unsettling Dumoulin. He was also the closest rider to Tommy D in the first time trial, where he showed his impressive ability to pace himself and to ride negative splits. It’s going to be a big tussle between these two men for gold, and they’re likely to not allow any other nation the chance of taking the top medal. The only way any other nation will even get silver, in fact, is if Dumoulin’s arm really does cause him grief. Otherwise, there’s your top two.

That is not to downplay the quality of this field, of course. Tony Martin will be flying the flag for Germany, and we can expect him to comfortably set one of the fastest times on the day. Martin’s huge engine will be beneficial over the multiple long, flat sections, but, with the Grumari climb in particular posing some +15% gradients, we might see Martin lose more time than he can gain back on the flats. This might also be the case for Portugal’s champion Nelson Oliveira. Oliveira was third behind Dumoulin and Froome in the Tour’s first time trial, but disappeared off the leaderboard in the uphill TT — in fairness, he might have been suffering in his third week of a grand tour. Form, therefore, can’t be guaranteed for Oliveira, but it’ll be interesting to see what he can put down on this long course.

We’ll also be curious to see what Australia can throw down. Their team comprises Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis. The latter briefly held the hour record, and has strong form in longer time trials. He was fairly inconspicuous for most of the Tour, but pulled out a great ride on stage 13’s ITT, taking fifth place. He was regrettably a non-starter on stage 17, so we didn’t see him in action on the climbers’ time trial. More interesting still might be Richie Porte, who we think is an outsider to take two Olympic medals. On a good day, he could ride onto the third step here — he was fourth in the Tour de France uphill TT — and he should be at the head off affairs in the road race, too. This, though, suits him more than the road race, so expect to see Porte put his full effort into the time trial; let’s hope he’s learnt a lesson from his badly paced first time trial in the tour, and rides  the negative splits race we’d expect from an ex-Sky man. Note that neither Australian rider is from the once dominant TT force that is Orica-BikeExchange, testament more to Orica’s changing agenda than it is to their declining TT prowess.

It’s notable that the Belarusian squad are also Sky or ex-Sky riders, and they make a formidable team. Kanstantsin Siutsou has decent form at the moment, and he’s currently Belarusian champ in both road and time trial disciplines. But Vasil Kiryienka, who skipped the national championship races, is arguably their best bet. Kiryienka massively underperformed in the Tour time trials (placing 120th and 143rd), but remember that he spent those three weeks devoting his energies to Froome’s G.C. campaign. If Kiryienka has anything in the tank then he should go well here on a course which suits him down to the ground, and he looks good for a strong top five.

Spain have a good chance with Jon Izagirre, who TT’d his way to a stage win in the Tour and who goes well over terrain like this; likewise, Jonathan Castroviejo is in fine form, and should post an equally strong time. Fabian Cancellara pulled out of his last Tour de France early so that he could get in shape to ride for Switzerland here. We’ll be curious to see what he can do, given that it’s certainly a much lumpier course than Cancellara would have liked. You never really know with Spartacus, but it has to be said he wasn’t on the form of his life in the Tour. Top ten yes, but the podium looks to be out of reach for him. Slovenia, meanwhile, have Primož Rogič, their current TT champion and surprise winner of a fairly long time trial in the Giro this year. He lost out to Castroviejo and Alex Dowsett (who is sadly absent here) in the Tour de Pologne’s recent time trial, which suggests his form is wavering — however, he should be able to nevertheless post a good time over this distance and might prove to be a surprise performer.

The French team is interesting. Despite FDJ’s commitment to refashioning themselves into time trial heavyweights, it’s an Etixx man and an Ag2r man who make up the team. Julian Alaphilippe and Romain Bardet are both better climbers than they are time trial riders, but Bardet in particular has performed with the very best of them of late; he was fifth on stage 18 of the Tour, and was only 42 seconds off the winning pace. This course, with its sharp rises and rapid descents, will actually suit Bardet quite well. He’s 300/1 at the bookmakers right now, and that seems a gross underestimation of his talent.

Other riders who could go well include Vincenzo Nibali, Wout Poels, or even Tim Wellens. The U.S.A. have some time trial pedigree in their team, which features Taylor Phinney and Brent Bookwalter — both members of BMC’s world championship team time trial squad. However, the distance and the hills don’t suit these specialists, so they can’t count amongst the strongest favourites here.

Picks:

It’s a coin toss between Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome for first and second. We’re inclined to say Dumoulin will finish with the better time, if his wrist is treating him alright. That leaves second for Froome. And for third? We’ll take Vasil Kiryienka.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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